Peeling Off My Capital "L"
This article originally appeared on Strike The Root.
Last Saturday, I dodged Seattle rain showers to go out and peel the Libertarian Party bumper sticker off my car.
This was a big step for me. I've been involved with the LP, one way or another, since helping found my college's Campus Libertarian Coalition in 1986 (we were a "coalition," see, 'cause individualists like us don't join clubs). I volunteered my services, ever so briefly, as my state LP's communications director. Two years ago, I even ran for state legislature — maybe you saw me on TV, before I was interrupted by our governor's victory speech?
None of this was because I believed an LP tide would wash over the state and bring a new dawn of freedom. If anything, I always figured that among political parties, the LP offered (as Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn might have put it) le moindre mal, le possibilité du bien — the least evil, the possibility of good.
No, two things kept the LP colors flying on the back of my car. One was loyalty to some individual LP members I've worked with. The other was a vague sense of having to put on a good show. As long as I'm the "office Libertarian" at work, I may as well act the part.
But if the physical act of peeling off the LP was much put-off, the mental separation was quick and clean, and happened some time ago. Having read myself into the LP once upon a time, I read myself back out again too — escorted through the door marked free-market anarchism by names like Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe, Stromberg, Beck, Rockwell, and Spooner (not to mention Strike the Root).
I realized this had already happened at my state LP's convention last spring.
Someone was defending some "reasonable" approach to limited government. "I believe government has a role to play," he said. "I'm not an anarchist!"
"Hell," I thought. "I'm an anarchist!" (As Bob Murphy has pointed out [link removed], it looks and sounds tough to describe yourself as an anarchist, though it doesn't actually do much to help you in a fight.) I suddenly felt a lot less at home in the LP.
After that, the signs were everywhere. I read Hoppe, and noted Rothbard's classification of the "modal Libertarian," a standard LP type, on pages 206-8: "an adolescent rebel against everyone around him: first, against his parents, second against his family, third against his neighbors, and finally against society itself. He is especially opposed to institutions of social and cultural authority: in particular against the bourgeoisie from whom he stemmed, against bourgeois norms and conventions, and against such institutions of social authority as churches."
Within days, the Burqa Incident, in which a woman accused the LP of not recognizing that "it isn't just state authority that should be of concern, but all authority" (my emphasis), proved Rothbard's insight correct.
Heck, even I can see through that one. I've read Albert Jay Nock.
Plus, there were the little things, annoying and embarrassing to the "office Libertarian" -- the Druid candidate [dead link removed, sadly]; the one allegedly advocating murder [ditto]; the blue guy; the national LP's short-sighted gloating over the defeat of Bob Barr; the speculative discussion of some kind of strategic alliance with the Greens [link removed] ... and the local candidate who called on the government to build parking garages and be the "employer of last resort."
(Reading this last in the county voter's guide, a co-worker asked me, "Pretty much anyone can call themselves a Libertarian now, right?")
After that, the bumper sticker was doomed.
Raising a new old flag
My Hoppean secession from party politics isn't an abandonment of the battle for liberty. On the contrary: it's redeployment to the front lines.
Freedom can't be achieved through politics. Voting can't build liberty any more than flapping our arms can make us fly. And as Lew Rockwell has pointed out, the whole idea of "public policy" is an anti-liberty fraud. The fields where freedom will be won are philosophical and ethical ... mental and moral ... personal, not political.
Government is force. Political power is coercive power. And that makes politics itself a violation of the much-vaunted LP membership pledge ("I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals"). Even LPers for whom politics is purely defensive should recognize that.
In delegitimizing political power, the first step is to renounce it for ourselves. (Someone asked me once what I would do if I were "king for a day." My reply, "Abdicate.")
So, better late than never, the LP sticker is off my car. The bumper's not bare, though. After all, I needed something to balance out the weather-beaten old "I [HEART] Capitalism" bumper strip on the other side. There's a new sticker on there now, one that looks a lot like this:
Check out this photo of the bumper in question, featuring my new Strike The Root bumper sticker.
Reaction to This Piece Thus Far:
- This piece was included in Free-Market.net's daily news and commentary email message, and added to FMN's directory [now yet another dead link]. (11/18/02)
- After a few days of relative quiet, someone apparently posted this to the LPUS email list ("dedicated to discussion of Libertarian Party business at the national level"), and from there it was sent to two Yahoo email groups (that I know of), including American_Liberty, of which I'm a subscriber. All this publicity led to a number of personal emails, and a moderate (by Am_Lib standards) fur fight on that list. You can read the relevant posts starting here. I don't know what the reaction was on other lists. (12/3/02)
- Related to the above, Billy Beck — a man I mention in the article because his writings have been very influential in my efforts to get my head on straight about freedom and government and all — mentioned me and this column in one of the first posts on his new blog. Hey, Billy, all I can say is I included you in that list intentionally. (12/4/02)
- Jim Ostrowski (of the Mises Institute, LRC, and Strike The Root) wrote to tell me that when announcing his decision to un-subscribe from a New York Libertarian Party e-mail list, he urged various "modal libertarians" to read this article. (4/17/03)
- I just noticed that this article is also linked-to (the STR archive, not this page) on the front page of Libertopia.net ("All the news they won't cover"). It's also listed on this "libertarian talk" page (right now, you need to scroll down to numbers 246, 250, and 251 — for some reason, it's listed three times). I don't know how permanent the listings on this page are, however. (8/3/03)
- Edited to fix a typo I just now noticed (embarassingly), to mention that the Libertopia link mentioned above is in fact no longer operative, and to note that my wife and I unloaded this car, Gadsden flag sticker and all, in February, 2005. (2/25/05)
- Edited to remove or redirect a bunch of dead links. (4/8/06, 1/22/07)